Why Portman Matters

A far less cynical take than today’s dissenter:

It was a miracle I was with my mom Friday. She’s here in NYC visiting me for the weekend from Cleveland, when the news about Rob Portman came through. My mother had the only response an Ohio mother of a gay son could possible have: “Holy shit.” We were in such shock we had to rewind the DVR and make sure we heard it right.

My mother is a proud Ohio Democrat and phone-banked many times for the reelection of Senator Sherrod Brown this past election. We both disagree with Mr. Portman’s views on a majority of the issues – except for one (as of this morning).   Hearing those words come out of his mouth was astounding. Not because of what it meant about Portman, but because of the change it represented for Ohio.

I still remember my mother calling me the morning after election day 2004 in tears.  Not because George W. Bush had been re-elected for another term (well, maybe a little bit) but because Ohio had passed a constitutional ban on same-sex couples getting married.

It was devastating to her.  Almost like a personal rejection of her son.  She kept apologizing to me, as if it was her responsibility to reach every household in Ohio and tell them that her son was a good person. If they just got to know him they would see that he should have the same rights.  It was heartbreaking to hear this. Suddenly I felt like the parent and tried to console her by promising that things will change and that we have to keep fighting.

That’s why watching a Republican from Ohio support marriage while sitting next to my mother was so meaningful and thrilling.  Who would have thought that in less than nine years, our Ohio would have two senators (yes both!) supporting marriage quality?!

Some don’t want to celebrate this news. I understand the reservations about Portman receiving any accolades.  He shouldn’t.  This didn’t happen because of political courage. Politicians move with the polls and rarely act with courage.  I say let’s celebrate the polls!  Celebrate those who have been moving those polls steadily in our favor for decades.  Through its relentless activism, the LGBT movement created a friendly enough environment for a Republican to support marriage equality.  Not to mention a world where a senator’s son could even broach the subject of his homosexuality with his father.

That leads me to the other person who deserves accolades for today. At the age of 19, Will Portman came out to his parents.  We all know it is rarely easy. However, I think Will gets some bonus points for coming out to the dad with the anti-gay voting record who is considered presidential material by a party with anti gay rhetoric all over its platform.  Maybe his coming out was a little harder than some.

More importantly, Will’s example shows that Harvey Milk was right when he said “Gay brothers and sisters … You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth!”  Those words are especially true when your father’s voting booth is located in the United States Senate chamber.  Will has proved once again that the greatest asset the LGBT community has is that we are in everyone’s family. We just need to make sure they know it.